There are many ways to be great in football, but the easiest way is to know what you’re doing. There is a certain physical ability threshold that players have to meet, but there’s also the craft, and natural talent will only take you so far in the NFL.
That’s something Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Alex Highsmith said that he had to realize over time. Not every great player is some physical specimen and superior athlete, as is often the perception, because they know what they’re doing and how to do it.
“I heard a saying one time, ‘a six-pack doesn’t get you a sack’”, he said while hanging out with Aditi Kinkhabwala last night on 93.7 The Fan. “That’s what I thought growing up, that everyone in the league was jacked and had three percent body fat and everything. But that’s not the case with the guys in the league, because they’re so technical with everything they do. They’re technicians”.
“You see some good players and you wouldn’t think that they’re in the NFL”, he added, “but there’s a lot of guys who make plays because they’re good football players. Of course you want to get as strong and as fast as you can, but it’s not necessarily about how your body looks. It’s about what you do on the field”.
Now, outside linebacker is not necessarily the position where you’re going to find many ‘dad bods’, as that is probably one of the more athletically demanding positions. But you don’t necessarily have the be ripped as a defensive tackle, for example, or an inside linebacker, if you can put your body where it needs to be and make it do what you want to do.
Studying the game and knowing what you need to do is certainly going to be a factor in making a play or not with greater frequency than your sheer athleticism and strength. And as far as speed goes, there’s only so much you can do to train that aspect.
Not everybody is or feels the need to be fanatical gym rats like James Harrison. That’s not how T.J. Watt approaches his offseason training, which he tailors around making himself the best football player he can be. David DeCastro has talked similarly about his training and how it evolved over his career, becoming more job-specific.
Now, it’s not as though Highsmith isn’t in excellent shape—or at least I assume so. I’m not sure I’ve seen him with his shirt off too often to judge. But he certainly looks the part athletically when he’s on the field, especially at the start of this season, even if so much of his success this year can indeed be attributed to his excellent fundamental technique work and tape study.